GEORGE TOWN, Aug 21 — Penang’s selection of “Bersih” for its Merdeka Day festivities was meant to celebrate a cleaner and greener Penang, said Deputy Chief Minister II Prof P. Ramasamy when denying any reference to similarly named rallies for free and fair elections.
The Penang lawmaker expressed shock over a directive by the state education department to all schools in the state not to take part in the annual Merdeka parade here this August 31 without express approval from the ministry, owing to concerns over the “Bersih” theme.
"I was told they issued this nonsensical directive because of our ‘bersih’ theme and this is an immature way of thinking because ‘bersih’ simply means clean (in Malay) and has nothing to do with the Aug 29 and 30 Bersih 4 parade," he told the Malay Mail Online in a telephone interview.
He termed the directive by the state education director Datuk Osman Hussain as a "ridiculous dictatorial act", pointing out that Penang has repeatedly used themes different to those selected by Putrajaya without issue.
Ramasamy then pointed out that the federal government had also used the word "bersih" in their previous themes, such as "bersih, cekap dan amanah (clean, efficient, trustworthy)".
"We have always had different themes from the federal government in the past seven years but there were no issue, and now just because of the word "bersih", it's an issue. Since when is the word ‘clean’ wrong?" he asked.
The state education department issued the directive to all schools yesterday in a letter informing them to wait for approvals before taking part in the state's annual Merdeka parade.
When contacted, Osman insisted that he was not prohibiting the schools from participating in the parade, but only ordering them to wait for approvals from the department before participating.
"The state's theme, ‘bersih’, is a sensitive theme and it clashes with the federal's theme of ‘sehati sejiwa’, and since we are under the federal government, we have to wait for federal approval," he said.
While reiterating that it was not a prohibition, Osman pointed that without the schools’ participation, the state’s Merdeka parade will be "paralysed" as the students made up half of the performers.
Ramasamy said Penang’s Merdeka parade will go on regardless of whether the schools take part or not.
"I am sure all the students, teachers and parents want to take part and they will be with us in spirit even if they are not allowed to take part," he said.
He then admonished Osman for issuing such a "nonsensical directive" and told him to go back to Putrajaya as he was not suitable to be the Penang education department director.
"I think he has paralysis of the brain for doing this, all these years, the schools never had any problems with the different themes and now this director has a problem, what does he have against the Penang state government?" he asked.
Ramasamy also said the Merdeka parade will not be "paralysed" as Osman claimed if the schools do not participate, saying that uniformed groups and NGOs could be tapped to make up the shortfall.
The annual parade that includes a march past before the Penang Governor is scheduled to be held on August 31 at the Esplanade here.